Stickiness and Guild Wars 2

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I’ll admit that it’s been a long while since I even thought about Guild Wars 2. Other than listening through the (very good) expansion soundtrack, most of 2015 was spent entirely outside of that game’s influence. Heart of Thorns didn’t have a feature list that interested me, so I moved on.

And yet, there’s always those unexpected moments where you think you’ve outgrown something only to have a memory trigger a wistful twinge from deep inside your bosom.

I think it was this post by MMO Juggler the other day that did it. The author asked why Guild Wars 2 wasn’t proving to be as “sticky” as he hoped, a question that had popped up in my mind. After all, this was a game that, when it launched, I had elevated as a major prospect for an MMO home. I played it strongly for a couple of years, at least, and generally enjoyed my time in the game, leveling a few classes to 80 and getting a full world exploration clear. The Engineer was a terrific class, as was the Ranger and even the Necromancer (so many pet choices!). The game handled well, had stunning visuals, and for a good while there kept updates coming fast and furious.

But in the end I didn’t feel the sticky that I had in other games, and that became a source of frustration for me, especially since I couldn’t point to a single reason why. Maybe it was because of its weird endgame loot system that was less satisfying than it should’ve been. Maybe it was its bizarre-as-all-get-out speed dungeon runs. Maybe it was the lack of real personal housing (seriously). And definitely the game’s story and lore, which never connected to me the way it seemed to for others, didn’t help.

I guess when you’re not feeling as rooted in a game, it’s a lot easier to pull up your tent stakes and move on. When that happens, the game has to work doubly hard to get you back, usually by promoting new content and lassoing your attention.

But that was the issue, wasn’t it? Heart of Thorns went in a weird direction that, from my perspective, wasn’t capitalizing on Guild Wars 2’s core design or strengths. More dragon storylines? Jungle zones? Platforming? Mastery grinds? Raids? Guild housing? They couldn’t have made a more lackluster feature list for me personally than if ArenaNet sent scientists to my house to observe me for a year.

And I really haven’t seen much from the game or studio since the expansion. Is it just me or has Guild Wars 2 really started to run silent? Other than occasionally popping up to promote yet more esports stuff (yawn), there have been no good content updates since the expansion. Certainly, we’ve passed the era of ArenaNet’s famous “two week cadence” updates. Maybe the studio is pooling its resources to work on another expansion. I can’t deny that Heart of Thorns was pretty profitable, so that makes sense.

Maybe the next time around, the game will swing back to what made it truly special back in the day and add a layer of sticky to recapture this buzzing fly. I actually did try to reinstall the game the other day to discover that I totally forgot my password — and I don’t have the box serial code to help recover it. Maybe my account is gone for good? If that’s the case, then I can’t see ever coming back, since there’s no way I’m starting over from scratch.

Those of you playing Guild Wars 2 still, how’s the game holding up? What’s the community and mood like? What are you hoping to see from ArenaNet?

Guild Wars 2: Grudging respect from afar

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MMO-wise, there’s no doubt that Guild Wars 2 stole the show at PAX Prime this year — and that’s even with some big SWTOR companion talk, a new Trion game, and other various titles vying for attention. With the game’s anniversary, the announcement of the October 23rd launch date, the revelation of raids, and the release of the core game for free(ish), I could hear gamer eyeballs snapping back to Guild Wars 2 from all over the world.

And you know what? Good for it. Even if it’s not in my rotation right now (nor will be for the foreseeable future), I bear no ill will for the game. As I said when Bree told me that this news made her miss the game, I miss things about Guild Wars 2 but not necessarily the game itself. I miss the beauty of it, the neat animations, the casual-friendly nature, and certain systems. But I feel that there’s this intangible line marking true fans from the rest of the crowd, and I’ve never been able to cross that.

I did log in to get my third anniversary gifts on my engineer. The choice of dye was nice indeed, and now I have yet another level booster if I ever want to power-level another character.

Even with a certain media outlet breaking embargo on some of the big news, GW2 had a strong showing at PAX. Raids… eh, that wouldn’t have interested me if I was still playing. The big world boss fights weren’t major attractions, so I can’t imagine raids pulling me in. But the date announcement and giving away the core game are both really good moves on Anet’s part. Were there a lot of people not playing Guild Wars 2 who really wanted to yet — in the span of three years — never ponied up for the game? Eh, at least it’s a good permanent trial and will help to boost sales for the expansion.

This also means that October is looking hecka busy. We’ve got SWTOR’s expansion right around then, and I’m willing to bet that WildStar’s F2P patch will land that month too. Plus, there’s all the Halloween content and whatnot. October is the new September for MMOs?

Farewell Blaugust!

So today is the last day of Blaugust, the community blogging event initiated by Belghast with the hopes of encouraging bloggers to establish a once-a-day posting pattern for an entire month. I am really impressed by how many people stuck out the entire month and how many more made a genuine effort. Lots of great posts this month, and I would love to see these writers take their increased frequency and keep it going through the fall.

For me, it wasn’t much of a change than how I normally posted, although I did make one tweak to the format: I started putting my retro gaming posts on the weekend. I really like that, so I think I’ll keep that going from here on out. I don’t get time to poke around a retro title every day, but enough for two posts in a week? No sweat.

Way to go, Blaugust writers! Was a lot of fun writing alongside of you all.

Pinpointing where Guild Wars 2 lost me

gw018Yesterday during the poll I put up, Wollydub asked me, “I’d be really interested in a blog or column about why GW2 fell completely out of favor with you. Not even a mention here. I am in the same boat. I can’t put my finger on it to put it into words though like maybe you can.”

Following a post I made a couple of weeks ago about parting ways with Guild Wars 2, I had very little intention of writing about the game unless I returned to it. I don’t want to get into that state where you’re a bit burned out and negative about a game and having nothing upbeat to say at all. I’d rather step away and see if the feeling comes back, allowing for a potential re-entry that rekindles better emotions.

But hey, since Woolly asked and I’m a little starved for post ideas today, why not?

Here’s the weird thing about this topic: I have extraordinarily positive things to say about Guild Wars 2. I can’t deny that I really enjoyed my time playing it, that it has a very casual-friendly approach, that it’s beautiful or has a stellar soundtrack, that the classes and combat drew me in, and that there’s always something to do. After all, I played for almost two years, so there must have been some pull going on. I’m not that much of a masochist.

So where did it lose me? As with many trends in life, it wasn’t one thing but a death from a thousand cuts.

First of all, there’s the spectre of burnout that looms larger the longer one plays an MMO. It doesn’t always happen and doesn’t always stick to a timetable, but I’d easily say that every successive year in a game, the chances of having my interest plummet increases unless the game does something to replenish that interest.

And that’s maybe where Guild Wars 2 failed for me. Even with all of its feature packs and living world updates, so little of that got me personally excited. The story very rarely engaged me, which was always frustrating because I could see that it was extensively written and there was tons of lore, etc. But the characters were largely a snoozefest and as season two went on, it felt like a trudge through setpieces that looked pretty and were as annoying as possible to finish.

That’s another thing: the tougher fights started to get to me. There are fun challenging fights and then there are fights were plants are vomiting red circles everywhere, knocking me down, and rendering melee all but useless. Remember that missions where you were Caithe fighting those centaurs? That took me so dang long with numerous deaths that I started to wonder if I’d ever see the end of the mission. When at least two-thirds of your game is combat, then that combat better hold up. I felt it starting to crumble.

I guess the final straw — again, for now — of my interest is that Heart of Thorns is heading off in a direction that quite frankly bores me. The new class is not a huge draw and I haven’t seen any “must have” elite specialization reveals yet. Guild halls? Wake me up when there’s real personal housing, thanks. Guild housing has never, ever gotten me excited about playing MMOs, especially when it comes instead of individual houses (City of Heroes, Neverwinter).

But seriously, the devs could not have turned me off more when they announced that we were getting even more of the jungle motif (I’ve yet to see bloggers rave about the decision to go with this) and even more platforming and even more grinding. Platforming in Guild Wars 2 is not the game’s strength, but ArenaNet obviously believes in it, because the studio has crammed it in everywhere, increasing it in frequency with the more recent zones.

I guess that’s about it. I don’t care what’s coming next in the story. I’m not enjoying the current design direction of the game. And there’s no “must do” goals that I want to keep pursuing. So I’ll be content to let the game be and see if my interest ever returns. Heaven knows that there are enough other games right now that are yammering for my attention, so I don’t feel a great void from putting this MMO down.

Guild Wars 2, I think this is where we part ways

standardEver since the initial announcement of Guild Wars 2’s first expansion, Heart of Thorns, I’ve been very much on the fence about it all. Little of the subsequent reveals interested me — elite specializations, masteries, the new class, and especially Super Platformy Jungle Zones. I have a history with the game and an appreciation for its casual playstyle and gorgeous art, but the longer I’m away, the less enticing it’s becoming to go back.

Last night ArenaNet revealed the pricing for the expansion and invited players to pay now for content they’re not going to get for… months, probably. Pre-ordering is one thing, but pre-purchasing, well, I’ve got to want that so bad I can taste it.

Lots of hubbabaloo over the pricing for the expansion, which begins at full-game-cost $50 and jumps up to $100 if you want some extras and a half-off deal on gems. $40 is my usual acceptance limit for expansions, although it fluctuates with my interest level. Right now the price for Heart of Thorns is about $20-$30 more than I’m willing to pay.

However, that’s not to say that this is scandalous pricing. Fifty bucks is fair for a game that hasn’t charged a sub and operates under a pay-once-play-forever policy. I agree with those who say that even the standard edition should come with an extra character slot to accomodate the new class, but apart from that? Fine. It’s less than four months’ subscription to WoW or WildStar or FFXIV.

There’s also the issue of bungled communication over this announcement, particularly in how the expansion comes bundled with the core game — a week or two after Anet had been pushing oh-so-hard to sell the core game at a discount. Refunds or discounts need to happen here. And calling it a “prepurchase launch”? Oh come ON. That’s intentionally confusing and PR speak to the highest degree. It’s all created a bit of a mess when this announcement should be nothing but excitement among fans.

Ultimately, I feel like it’s time to get off the fence part ways with Guild Wars 2, at least for now. There’s lots of other games that I’m far more interested in, and I haven’t really played GW2 for months and months now. I don’t want to pay a big chunk of money for an expansion that has little for me and will probably send me into a terminal case of the grumpies. So I’m bowing out and letting everyone who’s excited have their time of joy without my additional commentary.

Dear developers: Give me a backstory already!

fa1One of the more brilliant aspects of Fallout 3 was the decision to merge the tutorial and character creation process into a sequence in which you got to see your character grow from a toddler to a young adult living in the Vault.

In System Shock 2, a similar decision is made to eschew boring character creation slideshow screens for a more interactive process involving your character going through multiple years of military service, making choices along the way that would shape him.

In Fable, one of the touted aspects was being able to watch your character grow from childhood to adulthood. While, like many of that game’s hyped-but-disappointing features, it was boiled down to a short bit as a kid, at least there was that.

In many other CRPGs, such as Arcanum and the newer Pillars of Eternity, developers allowed players to select a backstory from a menu that not only included a description of one’s upbringing and region, but various advantages and disadvantages that would affect gameplay.

In all of these examples, by the time I entered the game world proper, I felt as though I knew who my character was and became more connected to him or her. The story of their life already began, and I was continuing it.

So why don’t we see that in MMOs? Am I the only one who gets disappointed with the status quo of having a level 1 character pop out of the void with no back history whatsoever, save for what I imagine? With no explanation as to how I got there, what my motivation is, or who I am past my chosen class and face?

To my recollection, only Guild Wars 2 has made any effort to integrate a backstory into the character creation process. And even here, it’s more presented as a series of choose-your-own-adventure decisions that will marginally affect your storyline. Still, I appreciated how by the time the game starts and there’s the introductory cutscene that sums up all of these choices into “my story,” I have become grounded in who my character is.

Even Star Wars: The Old Republic, with it’s much vaunted story pillar, has no story for your character past where he or she first appears. I have no idea how my Smuggler got her ship or got into that racket. I don’t know what my Imperial Agent went through in her spy training. I don’t know why my character gravitated to the Empire or the Republic. I just came into being, ex nihilo, along side all of the other freshly minted clones.

Am I being lazy, asking the developers to do the work that my imagination could supply? No, I don’t think so. These are roleplaying games that involve a long-term journey with a character. I want to be in on the ground floor of who that character is. I’d love to “live” — even in an abbreviated form — his or her childhood and early adulthood. I want to know what sets them onto the path that leads them to become a world-traveling adventurer.

The backstory of the CRPG is being lost — has been lost for a while now — in MMORPGs. It’s time to bring it back.